Stop acting like design is a choice.
A mental shift for pitching your work.
It’s never my job to sell anyone on “doing design.” You will “do design” with or without me.
Let’s consider a definition for design, which I first remember hearing in grad school:
“Design is the evidence of creative human choices to answer a problem.”
Admittedly, there are quite a number of definitions we can use to help better understand our craft. This one, though, is particularly instructive: design as a verb is the action of making choices; as a noun it is the evidence of those choices.
You can’t ship anything without making some creative choices. Shape, line, color, material, texture, hierarchy, content, motion… on and on and on the choices tumble. Each and every one must be answered.
Now, you can make terrible choices. You can make uninformed choices. You can make split-second, instinctual choices. You can say you don’t care. You can say that functionality is the only requirement. You can apply a preset theme or just accept the default options. You might even get lucky and make an accidentally fantastic creative choice.
It’s irrelevant. Choices will have to be made — visual, interactive, experiential choices over and over again until you’ve put something into the world.
Design will happen.
This might seem like a nitpicky semantic debate, but it’s absolutely vital to understanding the value of design as a profession. Our craft, as much as any other, is inextricable from the creation of business value. You can minimize it, maximize it, ignore it, but you absolutely cannot escape it.
When we tell ourselves that every designer should be able to sell and market their work, that’s personally good advice. You should absolutely be able to persuasively explain creative decisions, especially to folks who are uncomfortable making them. This is true freelancing, consulting in an agency, or working as in-house talent.
But, if we extend that to say we should be pitching the profession of design as a benefit to a product or service, we’re surrendering to the long-standing bias in business that design is anything less than an inescapable requirement to ship product.
It’s true that design has won a real seat at the table in a lot of organizations recently. That’s a huge win. But, this core falsehood remains — that design was ever absent from the table to begin with.
Think about the ugliest product you’ve ever encountered. Remember the app that immediately made you wince and delete. Recall the service that left you baffled as to why anyone would open it to the public.
Someone (likely a committee of someones) designed it. They chose everything you experienced. Then they shipped it.
They didn’t set out to make something poor, but it also didn’t just ✨✨POOF!✨✨ into existence fully formed as a frustrating hot mess. Somebody picked a color, a font, a workflow, a logo, any and every attribute, on and on until… fail. Even if they didn’t realize they were making a choice (hello, default options) the choice was made nontheless.
So, when we say that designers should know how to “sell design,” here’s the pitch:
In order to ship your product, in order to turn this vision into something of value, creative choices have to be made. Hundreds of them. Thousands. Maybe more.
You may say you don’t care. You may believe your customers don’t care. You may delay and default and half-ass these choices, but you absolutely cannot escape them.
Someone will make each and every one of these choices before it’s out the door.
So, since you have to make these choices anyway…
Why not make the best ones you can?
While our profession may focus on making better creative choices, design itself is not a choice. In fact, it never was.